Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991)
American dancer and choreographer whose style, the Graham technique, revolutionized modern dance.
Martha Graham danced and taught for over seventy years. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed: “I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” Founded in 1926 (the same year as Graham’s professional dance company), the Martha Graham School is the oldest school of dance in the United States. First located in a small studio within Carnegie Hall, the school currently has two different studios in New York City.
Graham was born in Allegheny City – later to become part of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – in 1894. When the Graham family later moved to Santa Barbara, California when she was fourteen years old In 1911, she attended the first dance performance of her life, watching Ruth St. Denis perform at the Mason Opera House in Los Angeles.
In the mid-1910s, Martha Graham began her studies at the newly created Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, founded by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, at which she would stay until 1923. In 1922, Graham performed one of Shawn’s Egyptian dances with Lillian Powell in a short silent film by Hugo Riesenfeld that attempted to synchronize a dance routine on film with a live orchestra and an onscreen conductor. When she left the Denishawn establishment in 1923, Graham did so with an urge to make dance an art form that was more grounded in the rawness of the human experience as opposed to just a mere form of entertainment.
Graham choreographed until her death in New York City from pneumonia in 1991, aged 96. sometimes termed the “Picasso of Dance” in that her importance and influence on modern dance can be considered equivalent to what Pablo Picasso was to modern visual arts. Her impact has been also compared to the influence of Stravinsky on music and Frank Lloyd Wright on architecture. Graham herself lists her final performance as her 1970 appearance in Cortege of Eagles when she was 76 years old.
Graham’s choreographies span 181 compositions. The Martha Graham Dance Company is the oldest dance company in America, founded in 1926. It has helped develop many famous dancers and choreographers of the 20th and 21st centuries
“Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.”